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September 19, 2005.

JO ANNE B. BARNHART, Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: IRMA GONZALEZ, District Judge

[Doc. Nos.
Plaintiff Beatriz Escobedo ("Escobedo") brings the instant motion for summary judgment seeking the reversal of Commissioner Jo Anne B. Barnhart's ("defendant") denial of Escobedo's application for disability insurance benefits, or, in the alternative, for a remand to the Social Security Administration for a decision in accordance with the applicable law. Defendant moves for summary judgment on cross-motion. For the reasons stated herein, the Court denies Escobedo's motion for summary judgment and grants defendant's cross-motion for summary judgment.


  A. Work and Medical History

  1. Physical Impairments

  Escobedo was born on September 7, 1941, and was fifty-nine years old at the time of her alleged disability onset. (Administrative Transcript ("Tr.") 26.) Escobedo has no formal education, and has past relevant work as a fabricating machine operator. Id. Escobedo claims disability from May 28, 1998 due to left hand and arm problems. (Tr. 13.)

  Escobedo has undergone three surgeries on her left hand: one on her left finger in 1995 and two on her left thumb, the first in 1997 and the second in 1998. (Tr. 143, 190, 219-220.) Escobedo first underwent surgery on her left thumb in November 1997 in order to relieve the pain caused by triggering.*fn1 While Escobedo continued to suffer pain in her left thumb after the surgery, her orthopaedic surgeon, Dr. John G. Ellis, found that she could continue her employment duties without any restrictions. (Tr. 128-129.)

  In July 1998, Escobedo began seeing Dr. Mark H. Mikulics, a board certified orthopedic surgeon with a specialty in hand surgery. Dr. Mikulics was Escobedo's primary treating physician from July 1998 through June 1999. (Tr. 189-238.) On August 19, 1998, Dr. Mikulics opined that Escobedo's 1997 surgery "was not successful [because] [s]he continues to complain of pain and triggering." (Tr. 229.) As a result, he found that she was temporarily partially disabled and could not return to work unless modified duty was available. (Tr. 230.) Dr. Mikulics recommended a second surgery on Escobedo's left thumb in order to treat her trigger. Id.

  Escobedo underwent a second left thumb flexor tenosynovectomy in order to relieve the pain caused by her left thumb trigger on October 2, 1998. (Tr. 197.) Escobedo continued to see Dr. Mikulics for treatment after the surgery. Dr. Mikulics performed a final orthopedic examination of Escobedo on June 9, 1999. (Tr. 189-193.) Escobedo continued to complain of thumb pain. (Tr. 190.) Dr. Mikulics opined that Escobedo: (1) was limited to very light grasping; (2) was precluded from repetitive gripping; (3) had lost ninety percent of her preinjury capacity for pinching; and (4) had lost fifty percent of her preinjury capacity for twisting, torquing, pushing, and pulling. As a result, he found that Escobedo could not perform the usual and customary duties at her then present employment and qualified for injured worker and vocational rehabilitation. (Tr. 193.)

  On March 13, 2000, Dr. Paul C. Milling, a board certified orthopedic surgeon examined Escobedo. Escobedo complained of pain in her left hand, wrist and fingers, of weakness in her left hand, and of an inability to use the hand. (Tr. 240-241.) However, on examination, Dr. Milling found "no limitation of motion" in her wrist or hand; that Escobedo could make a "full fist" and "fully" extend her fingers; and that she was able to flex her thumb without catching. (Tr. 241.) Dr. Milling also noted that Escobedo displayed fine motor control. Dr. Milling found Escobedo's claims of generalized tenderness through her wrist and thumb to be "all non-specific, and . . . very inappropriate." Id. Based on his examination, Dr. Milling concluded that Escobedo could lift and carry twenty pounds occasionally and ten pounds frequently; stand and walk for six hours cumulatively in an eight-hour day; stoop and crouch occasionally; and had the ability to use her hands and fingers for repetitive hand/finger actions. (Tr. 241-242.)

  2. Testimony at the Administrative Hearing

  Escobedo, a medical expert, and a vocational expert testified at Escobedo's administrative hearing before Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") Albert Tom. Escobedo was represented by counsel, David M. Shore. (Tr. 22.)

  Escobedo testified that she had worked as a machine operator for the past twenty-two and one half years in the fabrication of hospital parts, like masks and intravenous tubes. (Tr. 26-27.) She testified that she liked her job, but because she could "barely use" her left hand, she was no longer able to do it. (Tr. 28.) Her daily activities include visiting her daughter and her grandchildren. (Tr. 31.) Escobedo does light housework and can cook as long as she does not have to chop. Id.

  Dr. Eric C. Yu testified as a medical expert at the hearing. (Tr. 36-45.) Dr. Yu, based on his review of the medical evidence in the record, opined that Escobedo was limited to light level work; that she was limited to occasional stooping, bending, and crouching for prophylactic reasons; that she was limited, prophylactically, to occasional overhead use of her left hand; that she was precluded, also prophylactically, from climbing ladders and being around vibrating machinery; and that she was precluded from constant or repetitive fingering and handling (which by definition, he stated, included grasping). (Tr. 41-42.)

  Robert Metcalf testified at the hearing as a vocational expert. (Tr. 45-53.) Metcalf classified Escobedo's past work as a fabricating machine operator. (Tr. 46.) The ALJ posed two hypothetical questions to Metcalf. The first hypothetical presupposed a fifty-nine year old woman with no formal education, with physical limitations as testified to by Dr. Yu. Metcalf opined that a woman so limited would be able to perform her past relevant work. (Tr. 47.) The second hypothetical presupposed a woman with the limitations as testified to by Escobedo. ...

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